Story Behind the Creation of Castle Garden

Interior View of Castle Garden.

Interior View of Castle Garden. Harper's New Monthly Magazine, March 1871. GGA Image ID # 14b46c8b0e

The article responds to the questions: Who was the first to propose Castle Garden for the benefit of foreign immigrants? Is the board of management a National or a State organization? How did it originate?

Early Conditions

The pitiable condition in which Immigrants were landed In New York, the cruelties inflicted upon them in many cases In over-crowded emigrant ships, the extortions and downright frauds practiced upon them when they were put ashore like so many cattle, and left to shift for themselves in a strange city, without language to make their wants known, began to attract the attention of humane public officers and merchants of that city at an early day.

The outrages multiplied, and the importance of providing some remedy grew with the rapid increase of foreign immigration, which swelled from 22.633 for the whole United States in 1831, to 104,565 in 1842.

Creation of the Board of Commissioners of Emigration

The Legislature of New York State was appealed to and on May 5, 1847—in which year the rate of foreign immigration more than doubled upon that of 1842, the total number received rising to 234,968—it created the present Board of Commissioners of Emigration of the State of New York, which has been in successful operation ever since, and has proved one of the most beneficent institutions of the land.

It consists of nine members, six of whom are appointed by the Governor with consent of the Senate, while the other three are the Mayor of the city and the Presidents of the German Society and the Irish Emigration Society. All of these serve without compensation.

Provisions of Legislation

The law makes it their duty to provide suitable quarters for the reception of alien passengers arriving at New York; to care for the sick and helpless among them; to protect them from extortion, fraud, and impositions of any kind; to aid those who wish transfer to the railways and other transportation routes to the interior of the country; to assist such as wish to remain in the city to obtain work, and, in general, to give them trust worthy information and advice, and guard their interests.

For this purpose they were authorized to collect of vessel owners $2.50 for each passenger, until 1871, when it was reduced to $1.50.

Creation of Castle Garden

In 1855 the city of New York leased Castle Garden to the Commissioners for an immigrant landing depot, and it was opened for this purpose in August of that year. It occupies the extreme southern point of the city at the junction of the North River, or Hudson with the East River.

A more convenient, healthy, and every way desirable station could not have been selected. The immigrants are brought here directly from immigrant vessels, in tugs or barges, and received into rooms properly heated, lighted, and ventilated.

Bathrooms, lunch counters with provisions at reasonable prices, suitable sleeping quarters, and other conveniences are all found within the building, and are conducted under strict superintendence.

The names of such as has money, letters, or friends awaiting them are called out. Clerks stand ready to write letters for them in any European language.

There are railway offices where tickets are sold them by thoroughly responsible clerks, who can talk with them in their native tongues.

Responsible brokers exchange their foreign coin and currency at par market value. There is an employment bureau to find work for those who do not care to go any farther.

A physician is in attendance, and the sick are properly cared for in a temporary hospital until they are transported to the immigrant hospitals on Ward's Island.

In view of the fact that about two-thirds of all the foreign immigration to the United States land at New York, it is, indeed, a noble institution that meets these strangers with such generous provisions for their wants.

Immigration Statistics 1847-1873

According to an article in “The American Cyclopedia," of the 5,083,392 immigrants arriving at New York between May 5, 1847, and January 1, 1873, for whom commutation money was paid by the vessel-owners, “all of whom received protection, advice, and information from the commissions,

  • 1,465,579 were provided and cared for out of the immigrant fund, for a greater or less period during the five years subsequent to their arrival;
  • 398,643 received treatment and care in the institutions of the commissioners;
  • 449.275 were temporarily supplied with board and lodging and money relief in the city of New York;
  • 349,936 were provided with employment through the labor bureau at Castle Garden;
  • 53,083 were forwarded from Castle Garden to their destination in the United States, or returned to Europe at their own request; and
  • 214.642 were relieved and provided for in various parts of the State of New York," all out of this immigrant fund.

In 1872-3 bills were introduced into Congress to supersede this New York Emigration Commission by a National bureau, but the movement excited great opposition, not only in New York, but in other quarters, and it ended in failure.

Jones, William P., “New York Immigration Commission,” in The Inter Ocean Curiosity Shop For The Year 1883, Seventh Edition, The Inter Ocean Publishing Company, Chicago, 1891 p. 56

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